Making a good sequel is an art that few movie franchises have mastered. The success of “The Incredibles” hinged on the fact that the original audience had grown up and would pay to see it simply for the nostalgic feeling it invoked. “Harry Potter” had a built-in sequel, though flops like “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” have shown that this doesn’t always mean immediate success. “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” the second movie in the “Wreck-It Ralph” series, had neither nostalgia nor a pre-written plot on its side, but maybe that’s exactly what made it such an entertaining thing to watch.
The movie opens with a FaceTime call with its creators, already setting the tone for the kind of fourth-wall breaking, sub-tweeting moments to come. It moves on to Vanellope (Sarah Silverman, “A Million Ways to Die in the West”) voicing her concerns about wanting more excitement from life. It’s a cliché but relevant sentiment, especially in the Millennial generation, whose dry humor the movie tries to mimic. On the other hand, Ralph, voiced by John C. Reilly (“Step Brothers”), is a very one-dimensional character. Where Vanellope spends hours considering her place in the digital world, Ralph simply wonders when he’ll have his next root beer. It’s this simplicity though, that gets the whole movie going and what eventually helps Ralph break the internet.
Physically depicting the internet, in itself, is an interesting concept. But “Ralph Breaks the Internet” doesn’t just leave it at lovable characters or creating a complex metropolis to show the online world. The internet that Vanellope and Ralph encounter is also a fierce reflection of the way our world works. Each person connected to the internet is represented by a small block-headed person, oblivious to everyone and everything around them, just like in the real world. Even within Ralph and Vanellope, we see generational differences in the way people perceive the internet — Vanellope’s intricate understanding mirroring that of the young people who grew up with it and Ralph lumbering around the online world with only a vague concept of what the internet is. The movie uses Ralph and his innocence to explore the savage nature of an ever-changing public opinion, especially regarding those that gain quick internet fame. One scene shows Ralph standing among and staring at a never-ending set of columns filled with internet comments, a jarring portrayal of the way people can become lost in the negativity of internet trolls.
Where “Ralph Breaks the Internet” exploits the downfalls of our society, it also works to fill the void of strong female characters missing in film and Disney movies especially. Vanellope is a curious and outgoing character; contrasted with Ralph’s unassuming, blubbering demeanor, she comes across as an even stronger person. As the film so blatantly points out in the Disney princess dressing room, this kind of dynamic is uncharacteristic of cartoons and is a refreshing change to the typical Disney trope. What’s more, the major supporting characters are women in leadership roles — Shank (Gal Gadot, “Wonder Woman”) is a firm gang leader and Yaz is “head algorithm,” making decisions that affect the fate of the internet. Her role is reminiscent of Meryl Streep’s iconic Miranda Priestley in “The Devil Wears Prada.” The movie goes one step further and not only breaks stereotypes with its own characters but pushes the Disney princesses into a space that’s less about their damsel in distress status.
This being said, “Ralph Breaks the Internet” doesn’t set itself up for longevity; the jokes rely heavily on a detailed understanding of current internet culture, the thing that matters most is that Ralph and Vanellope end up with the kind of friendship we all want in our lives. Understanding their differences is an integral message of “Ralph Breaks the Internet” and brings the movie home.